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Flooding leads to road closures near creek

Heavy rains caused flooding in Manhattan, Keats and northern Riley County on Wednesday.

Manhattan city officials issued a flood warning early Wednesday morning.

The water level for Wildcat Creek at Scenic Drive crested at 20.1 feet, which indicates “moderate” flood conditions. As of noon the gauge at Scenic Drive was at 19.74 feet. The gauge at Keats was at 19.8 feet, having crested at 21.17.

Some residents in the Keats area whose homes were flooded in 2018 voluntarily evacuated, according to a report from Manhattan city officials. Residents of Highland Ridge Apartments have been notified to move vehicles and be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Residents of the Hunter’s Island area who were affected by the 2018 flood were told to be prepared to evacuate.

Officials closed Wildcat Creek Road west of Scenic Drive Wednesday.

Riley County Emergency Management Director Pat Collins said officials might end up shutting down some additional roads during the day throughout the county, but he does not foresee the problem getting worse with predicted rains.

“With the small rain, the creeks do a pretty good job,” Collins said. “The problem is when we get one to one and a half inches of rain overnight and there’s no storage, so it all ran off.”

He said he received reports of up to 2.75 inches in some areas.

Collins said the flooding is affecting multiple parts of the county, with reports of high water levels west of Leonardville and flooding along Fancy Creek Road North of Randolph.

“Some of the roads are already closed in the area because the lake is up so high,” Collins said. “So the rain is making it worse.”

He also said he’d heard reports of road closures in Geary County.

“The Kansas River will rise, and if it’s too much, it’ll cause additional rising in Wildcat Creek, and it just has no place to go,” Collins said.

Collins said since the flood over last Labor Day, the county and city have gone through plenty of research on how to prevent future flooding, but funding is not available.

“There was a lot of research on how to slow the water getting into Manhattan, but there’s just no funding to do it,” he said. “The city has that Wildcat Creek plan they want to do, but the problem with having a plan is you need money to make it work. Right now, money only seems to slow down the planning.”

Tuttle Creek? If they let water out, will that affect Wildcat Creek?

Inspirations behind 'Hot Zone,' producers react to advance premiere

Seeing a version of herself on the big screen was surreal, Nancy Jaax said of her on-screen portrayal by actress Julianna Margulies in National Geographic’s upcoming miniseries “The Hot Zone.”

“You see this poster with this person with my name on it, (and) it is a little crazy,” she said.

The first two episodes of the six-part series were played during an advance screening in Forum Hall at the K-State Student Union Tuesday night.

The series explores the arrival of the Ebola virus in the U.S. at a military facility in Reston, Virginia, in 1989. It is based on the 1994 book “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston.

Two of the show’s central characters are Nancy and Jerry Jaax, who were both Army veterinarians at the time. Both received their veterinary degrees from K-State and later became leaders at the school, assisting in the development of the Biosecurity Research Institute and in the university being named the future home of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. Margulies plays Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax and Noah Emmerich plays Lt. Col. Jerry Jaax in the show.

The couple was part of a team that discovered the presence of the filovirus in monkeys in the U.S. and tried to prevent an outbreak from spreading to the human population. Jerry said the team would normally be small to reduce the number of people in contact with dangerous viruses, but because the issue was so large and unprecedented, they cultivated about 15-16 volunteers to help research the virus.

“It was very exciting for us once that diagnosis was made,” Jerry said. “There was a lot of effort that went into it. The thing about it, in a laboratory situation, you don’t really necessarily feel the urgency that we had... We asked people to do things that they weren’t normally involved in doing and you find that people are always willing to step up.”

Producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders were given a copy of “The Hot Zone” and said they were compelled by the work of those involved.

“We started our careers writing about superheroes and for us to read a story about people who are putting their lives at risk or are willing to go in, as (Jerry) said, everybody kind of rushed in to help, to us was a wonderful way to write about but in a grounded, sort of real life situation,” Souders said.

Souders said while the series is not a documentary, she and Peterson wanted to make sure they told the overall story accurately but also piece together a comprehensive, emotional and entertaining show. Souders said this story was one of the hardest projects she and Peterson had done.

“We wanted to feel like we had the essence of who (the Jaaxes) were, that they were first and foremost military soldiers, and beyond that military officers, that take their duty really seriously and that was incredibly important to us,” she said. “I think you get a really strong sense that they have a great marriage that feels like a partnership (but) we were also taxed with creating a drama.”

Jerry said some drama was played up for the show, but he thought it overall captured Nancy’s dedication to the project. He said the couple thought about the risks that could come to their family as they studied the virus, but they never told each other they should stop.

“We’ve always been a team and I know there’s some tension building here (in our relationship in the show),” Jerry said. “Obviously we did have some concerns about family issues but there was never any “You can’t do this’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that’ because by this time, we were professional Army officers and that’s what you do. You don’t necessarily think that ‘Well I don’t feel like doing that today.’”

Jerry said he appreciated that one of the benefits of the upcoming show’s release and popularity of the book is that it helps raise awareness about biomedical hazards, especially current with recent Ebola outbreaks, and how to respond in emergency situations.

“It will help remind us we’re not kings of our own environment,” he said.

Nancy said the couple has even had people and young children tell them that their story influenced their career choices to study science.

“That’s been one of the most gratifying, satisfying things for both Jerry and I is how many kids say, ‘I went into medicine’ or ‘I went into microbiology because of this book.’ That was a real gift. We got so many people interested in science.”

“The Hot Zone” will premiere at 8 p.m. May 27 on National Geographic.

City signs off on final Douglass Center design

Construction on a new Douglass Recreation Center could start as soon as this fall and finish in November 2020 after the Manhattan City Commission voted 5-0 to approve a final design.

Presented with three options, the commission chose the recommended $4.5 million design that will include enough space to configure for a high-school regulation basketball court, two NCAA-size volleyball courts, 2 pickleball courts, a community room, a fitness room and an elevated three-lane track.

The commission had tabled a decision on the design in April because parks officials had not included a three-lane track option as part of the slate of options for commissioners to review, even though the Douglass Center Advisory Board had expressed a preference for three lanes.

The project now makes its way through final construction documents. The city is expected to put the project out to bid late this summer and review bids in September. Construction could start as soon as November, with a year-long construction process setting the center to open in November 2020.

Several members of the community, including several frequent users of the current center, expressed their support for the center and the three-lane track option.

Commissioner Jerred McKee, reflecting on his work with other cities across the nation through his job at CivicPlus, said building the center will demonstrate the city’s commitment to the neighborhood.

“I’m not always big on chasing the Joneses, but I think this project represents a couple things,” McKee said. “The first is, we made a commitment to move forward with this center. It’s more than just a building. I see this as an investment in that neighborhood and that community — a neighborhood the city has long not invested in, but should.”

“I’m pretty much on the same page as Commissioner McKee, in that I think this is the only neighborhood recreation center that is the closest to a YMCA of sorts,” commissioner Usha Reddi said. “It’s not a YMCA, we’re not fortunate to have one, but this is what comes closest to it, in terms of it being affordable, accessible, for a variety of demographics. It’s in a neighborhood where people don’t have to drive to get to it. It’s used by everyone, not just those in the community but everyone in Manhattan.”

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he generally supports community building projects, but only when they come with defined, concrete funding sources that don’t involve tax increases.

“I don’t have a problem with (the design), but my issue is with the cost,” commissioner Wynn Butler said. “This thing has morphed from a block grant where it wasn’t going to affect the tax payer to maybe as much as half a mill on the mill levy, and I don’t support that. But if we can find another way to fund it, I have no problem with it.”